NORTH ADAMS — What the city does with the recent proposal to redevelop the long-empty Mohawk Theater won’t be decided until incoming Mayor Jennifer Macksey is inaugurated.
What happened: The council voted unanimously at a virtual meeting Tuesday to wait to vote until its second meeting in January on Mayor Tom Bernard’s order to sell the building to developer Dowlin Building LLC and negotiate a contract.
Proposals to purchase the theater will require council approval, as the council also voted Tuesday to amend a previous order that gave the mayor the power to sell the theater to add a requirement that any proposal to purchase the theater come back to the council before it is sold.
The background: In a response to a request for proposal this fall, Veselko Buntic, of Dowlin Building LLC, submitted the only proposal to purchase the theater for $21,000 and turn it into a multipurpose event and performance space. Bernard said he planned to sell the building to Dowlin and that, according to a legal opinion, he didn’t need the council’s authority to do so. Some councilors objected, saying the council typically has had to approve the sale of a building for less than its assessed value. Councilor Keith Bona suggested taking a revote on a 2019 order that gave the mayor the authority to sell the property. But, the council decided to instead hold a special meeting about an informational project earlier this month where Buntic and the public spoke.
Battle between mayors: Before the council took the votes Tuesday, Macksey urged the council not to allow the theater’s sale.
“In my first meeting with Mayor Bernard, I asked him not to proceed with a sale,” she told the council.
She said she wants more transparent procedure and to give prospective developers more time. “This process has been very rocky. It absolutely makes no sense to make a decision of this magnitude in the last days of Mayor Bernard’s term.”
Bernard disagreed. “I would respectfully disagree this has been a rushed process. We’ve been at this over a month now, really almost three since the RFP was issued. And just, respectfully, I would point out that the term of any mayor runs until the next mayor is inaugurated. I do believe this is a project I took on and it is one I’d like to see to completion.”
What the council said: Bona and councilor Benjamin Lamb introduced the proposals to give the council authority to vote on proposals for the theater and to post-pone voting on an order Bernard submitted to negotiate a sale with Buntic.
“We’re are not killing it tonight. It does allow the next administration to decide how they want to move forward with it,” Bona said.
“It’s obviously something that’s important to the public, and I think this was a good compromise,” Councilor Marie Harpin said.
A second power struggle: Macksey also asked that the council wait and not approve five appointments to various boards that Bernard recommended and that were on the meeting agenda Tuesday night.
“I want to build my own team,” she said. “This request is made in no disrespect to the people recommended.”
Bernard does not see people who volunteer for boards and commissions as part of his administration. “The idea of building a board or commission that is an extension of an administration is a little concerning.” Some councilors, like Wayne Wilkinson, agreed. “Quit playing politics and welcome these people on board,” Wilkinson said.
In the end, the council approved all the appointments, including Dale Osef to the Human Services Commission, Jesse Lee Egan Poirier to both the Planning Board and Redevelopment Committee, Eric Kerns to the MASS MoCA Development Commission, and Randall Kemp to the Commission on Disabilities.